Home » The Business of Writing » Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget defends slideshow journalism: “It’s native digital storytelling”

Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget defends slideshow journalism: “It’s native digital storytelling”

29 November 2013

From Pando Daily:

Business Insider founder, editor, and CEO Henry Blodget staged an impassioned defense of slideshows at PandoMonthly in New York on Thursday night, saying the visual format was part of a new type of storytelling native to the Web.

Business Insider, known for its mix of excited headlines and blog-style news and analysis, has copped a lot of flak over its four-year existence for milking slideshows for pageviews.

. . . .

Blodget told Sarah Lacy that he wished the story that I would write is that Business Insider is innovating and that people need to acknowledge that the Web is a new medium, different from print and television. Slideshows are a great form of digital storytelling, he said, because people love pictures. Not everything has to be a 3,000-word essay approved by the Columbia Journalism Review.

And an anti-slideshow opinion, also from Pando Daily:

Last Friday, Business Insider’s Nicholas Carlson published a 75-page slideshow about his recent business class flight from New York to Beijing. The slideshow, which consists entirely of blurry photos and simplistic captions, each granted its own Web page, has so far generated more than 3 million pageviews.

In August, Carlson published a widely praised 22,000-word profile of Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. That story, which took six months to report and is seen by many media watchers as the best piece of journalism to appear on Business Insider, has so far attracted just over 1 million views.

When a slapdash slideshow of a mundane plane trip brings in three times as many pageviews as a deeply reported biography of one of the most fascinating figures in business, you have to wonder why all online publications don’t just drop what they’re doing and pivot to a slideshow-first strategy.

It’s a killer business move, at least in the short term. Every time one of those “slides” – which are really just “pages” – loads, a new ad impression is served. Business Insider makes most of its money from those ads. Each time a new one is loaded, it pockets a few more pennies.

. . . .

 The Web, Blodget argued, demands a different approach to storytelling than what you find in print. When TV first emerged, news programs simply featured people reading news from newspapers. That, of course, soon changed, and TV news became a picture-driven medium. Similarly, on radio, sound and music play a greater role in the telling of stories. And so, digital media lend themselves better to different types of storytelling. Such as slideshows.

. . . .

 And, actually, I agree with Blodget. Up to a point. The Web has certain qualities that facilitate a novel approach to storytelling. That is part of the beauty of online media. The Web is interactive, social, dynamic, hypertextual, mobile, and not bound by arbitrary limitations such as word-counts or page sizes. It provides a rich environment for high-definition imagery and film. Thanks to the Web, we can broadcast content asynchronously, nimbly, and at a low cost, and we can blend a panoply of multimedia elements – video, audio, maps, graphics, tweets, status updates, 3D art, animations, gifs, real-time posts – into story experiences that transcend what is offered by print, TV, or radio.

. . . .

 These slideshows are not wondrous experiments carried out in the name of pleasing readers and advancing the cause of native digital storytelling. They are economic decisions through which Business Insider is attempting to inflate its pageviews and create ever more excuses for the generation of ad impressions. To an extent, that is fair. The company is using these methods to help pay reporters and fund better journalism. The low-grade slideshows subsidize the serious reporting. But let’s be clear: this is Business Insider gaming the system.

Link to the rest at Panto Daily – Pro and Con

The Business of Writing

11 Comments to “Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget defends slideshow journalism: “It’s native digital storytelling””

  1. You know, if I go to read one of these stories and it’s a slideshow, I exit it. NO story is worth that amount of my time and energy to wait for the freaking page to load with the popups and the rollover ads and the stupid ads I have to “X” out of. No story.

    • I rarely have the patience to wait through more than the first couple of slides. I wonder if anyone has done a study of the abandonment rate as the slides progress.

      • Some of these slideshows have a link or button to let you view the whole thing on one page. (It might be labelled “printer-friendly version” or similar. If I see one of those, I use it. If not, I try a few slides, but if they take more than a few seconds to load, I hit the “back” button and go read something less annoying.

  2. It might be a possible hit while the idea is new, but once everyone is doing it there is going to be an app that takes the content off those irritating slides, puts it into a single file, and lets you skim at leisure.

    Time is the most valuable commodity for users – and this wastes their time.

    It’ll work as a scam, and then we’ll find blockers and things to warn you a slideshow is coming – and we’ll go back to the way we like to read: under OUR control, not that of some nitwit at the other end.

    Enjoy your few minutes of fame.


  3. When did Yahoo’s CEO become “one of the most fascinating figures in business”?

  4. You know, I always look at the slide shows as like the slick magazines of the past, like Life Magazine. You see a level of photojournalism that you don’t see any more.

    So I don’t really give a rip of the newspaper has some secret money-making agenda or not: they’re giving me something I miss and which I’m glad is back.

    (Also, looking at political comics these days is like reading the funnies — you get a raft of them in a slide show, rather than just one.)

    Vive la slide show!

    • I do, too. I usually like the slideshow features. But I’m a big photography nut, so when the photography is good it can be really pleasant to click through a series of related, well-shot photos.

      A bunch of blurry photos would annoy me, though. I’d be exing out of that post haste. Three million views? Why??

  5. I like some slide shows. But there is another new-to-me thing happening in online advertising that ticks me off. I go to a site and audio starts playing automatically. Grrr. I don’t mean the obvious audio, which is bad enough yet also easy to turn off by clicking the pause button. I’m talking about the audio that seems to come out of nowhere. Search the page and there’s nowhere to turn it off. I’ve resorted to leaving my speaker turned off. I miss email notifications, but the silence is worth it.

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